The New York Review of Books is currently running a series of articles on the authors of post- 9-11 US foreign policy.
It paints compelling portraits of the careers and the hubris of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. The articles are well written, but they are missing something important.
It is comforting to believe that the excesses of the war on terror are the work of just a few greedy and power-mad men.
It absolves Obama.
It absolves us as well.
These people have the power that we give them. As should be abundantly clear at this point, the politics of fear are not distinctly Democratic or Republican.
This point is not clear to the author of this series. It is extraordinary that in the sixth year of this enthusiastically drone assassinating presidency he can still describe Obama as “one lonely man hoping to persuade” us to back down from permanent war.
Really? This is a guy who has toppled one Arab leader, and only backed down from toppling another when it became clear that he had no public support for the effort.
According to this article, our current situation has little to do with the structures of the US military industrial complex, or an institutionalized simple minded approach to complex subjects.
No, our problems are all about the predilections of a few men, and their influence over a president.
mark Danner writes, “it was Dick Cheney, more than any other official, who set the terms for the post–September 11 world we all share”.
The titles of these articles make this view more apparent: “Rumsfeld: Why We Live in His Ruins”, “Rumsfeld’s War and Its Consequences Now”, and my personal favorite “In the Darkness of Dick Cheney”
This interpretation is very seductive. There is nothing wrong with us and the system we keep voting for. We are not complicit. It was these evil men who fooled us!
They certainly abused the system in outsized ways, but it is not like they were the only ones at fault. War hungry politicians are everywhere, not just on one side of the aisle.
Most people assume that we never would have gone to Iraq if it weren’t for Bush and his cronies. I am not so sure.
Gore’s vice president would not have been Dick Cheney, but instead would have been Joe Leiberman, the hawkish Democratic Senator who introduced the legislation authorizing war in Iraq.
Republican or Democrat, the war on terror would have been the nightmare that it is. Focusing on a couple elderly white dudes is not a good way to address the real problem.
The real problem is that Democrats and Republicans just love bombing stuff.
We have a foreign policy apparatus and a government that is built around finding or creating things for us to be scared of. Whether it is in an effort to “spread democracy” or out of a “duty to protect” every administration keeps finding reasons to bomb things.
It would be nice to blame this on the “system” but it is kind of hard to see where it begins and we end.
We keep voting for them. It is understandable to an extent. But it is a choice that we continue to make. We keep not voting for people who want to make meaningful cuts to the military. We keep not voting for people who are serious about changing the way we approach the world.
It is not like these people aren’t available. The Libertarian and Green parties put people forward every election who promise to do exactly that.
But like a fat man who keeps going to McDonalds, we continue to make the wrong choices.
We can see the system of incentives that make that fat man keep going to McDonalds. To an extent we can be sympathetic, and want to help him break the cycle.
But at the end of the day our sympathy fades, and we get angry with him. We don’t let him off the hook because the guy at the counter managed to get him to super-size his bad choice on that particular day.
Dick Cheney & Co were certainly warmongers. They did not, however, hijack an otherwise peaceful country.
This assumption provides an excuse, not a path towards change.